Dominic Blake: Sleep deprivation, head-scratching, a failed bike ride and a bit of running - my Round Norfolk Relay 2019

Dominic Blake with Jonathan Thetford at the finish of the Round Norfolk Relay. Picture: Reepham Runn

Dominic Blake with Jonathan Thetford at the finish of the Round Norfolk Relay. Picture: Reepham Runners - Credit: Archant

Sleep deprivation, head-scratching, a failed bike ride and a bit of running... Reepham Runners' Dominic Blake reviews his Round Norfolk Relay experience

It's around 6pm on Saturday, September 14 and I have just stepped out of someone else's car into the cool evening sunshine.

I am now the proud owner of a Boardman bike belonging to Mike Jolly (my co-cordinator for the 2020 Round Norfolk Relay).

It won't fit in the car of our timekeeper, Shaun Webb, and the car I have just driven belongs to our stage nine runner, who will need it in about an hour so he can drive himself home.

I scratch my head a couple of times, trying to work out how to get this bike further round the course (we will need it for bike support on several of the remaining stages).

Then I announce to our timekeeper and a couple of the support staff on our team: "It's fine, I'll ride the bike to Earsham."

I reckon I can cover the 18 miles in about an hour, and even though I'm shivering due to the dropping temperature, I am convinced that this solution is perfectly practical, so I pull on a helmet and reflective and hop on. Thankfully, I am stopped before I get started.

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It is, on reflection, a ludicrous idea, especially as Mike is currently en route to Belton with our stage 10 runner. The plan changes and we simply load the bike into Mike's car when he arrives.

This is what the Round Norfolk Relay can do to even the most sensible of people - tired minds with good intentions, but ultimately flawed decisions. The race is 198 miles around the Norfolk border and is rightly described on the website as 'unique in character and concept' - I can't think of another race like it.

This is Reepham Runners' 15th consecutive year in the event, and my 11th participation...and I still can't figure out how to get a bike from A to B!

My journey this year began with a 3.45am wake-up call. The race has a staggered start based on projected finish time, and as one of the slower clubs on the route, our two teams have been given start times of 5.30am and 6am respectively.

Roadworks on the A47 mean that Mike and I arrive only just in time to see our mixed team runner head off. We are part of the Masters team setting off at 6am and I can't help but notice how much of a chill there is in the air (it's still dark outside).

Around 20 minutes later, our first runner Lee Bryer is ready to go. Mike is kitted out in his bike support gear and Richard (2019 coordinator, he's been doing the job for 15 years before passing the baton) will follow in the support vehicle. Support vehicles with a flashing light are required for the road sections during non-daylight hours, health and safety is crucial in an event of this size.

All I have to do is to drive to Hunstanton, where I am support runner for stage two to Chloe Monsey, who is running this event for the first time. The first few stages are mostly off road, but for the uninitiated, it is easy to get lost.

Chloe hasn't had the chance to recce the route, so it is logical for someone like me, who has run stage two a couple of times before, to accompany her. I neglect to tell her I got lost the last time I ran this stage!

Chloe soon settles into a rhythm as we make our way along the coastline, over sand dunes and duckboards. My mind is racing ahead to stage four, the stage which I will be running.

I'm slightly nervous having not run or recce'd it before and having been switched from stage 13 at the last minute.

I offer water and encouragement at regular intervals to Chloe, but she doesn't require either, and completes the stage a good couple of minutes under her estimate.

A quick hug, and I jump in Mike's car to race ahead to Wells, where I will pick up the baton from Rory Cameron.

I feel quite stiff, so I am forced to do some stretches (which, as a runner, I hate). This alleviates the stiffness, and it isn't long before Rory is looming into view.

I grab the baton and race off, far too quickly. It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the event, and I have just over 11 miles to run. Thankfully, the route isn't as complicated as the 27-stage instructions make it seem, and I manage not to get lost.

However, I end up paying for my ridiculous early pace, and by Wiveton Café, I am exhausted. There are just under two miles to go, and luckily, Mike is there to provide bike support for the last section into Cley. I stagger along the bank before running a tough 30 metres on the shingle beach and collapsing.

This is only part of the journey for me this year though. Several bike and car changes later and we are back at Lynnsport at 9.30am, to watch our last runner, Jonathan Thetford, surge down the final straight and cross the line in a team time of 27 hours, 36 minutes, 54 seconds. It's three minutes inside our team estimate, so I'm delighted.

Just time for a quick team photo before consuming the obligatory pint and fry up inside.

I can barely keep my eyes open, having been up for most of the last 36 hours, but I'm smiling, safe in the knowledge that both me and the bike have made it!